Fourth of July can make lasting memories

Posted7/8/2015 1:00 AM

When I was little, my Grandpa Mitchell said that when corn was "knee-high by the Fourth of July," it would yield a good harvest.

I remember wondering whose knees. His were much higher than mine.


He also said that attentive farmers, of which he was one, could hear corn growing in the field.

While we made the rounds to check the corn and soybeans that he grew to sell for feed and for the hogs he raised, he'd ask me to be quiet and listen hard to hear the corn crackle.

That thought recently came to mind considering the frequency our lawn has needed mowing in recent weeks. Perhaps if I put my ear to the ground, I'll hear our grass grow, too.

Reflecting on Independence Day, I flashed back to many different experiences on America's birthday.

My first recollection is when my folks took us to McCulloch Park along White River in Muncie, Indiana.

Right after supper, my mother always filled a big brown bag with popcorn to go with a large Thermos of freshly squeezed lemonade. Then just before dark, we'd head to the park where we'd spread a big blanket on the hill next to friends and neighbors to await the fireworks in the sky and the pinwheels at ground level.

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Years later, I remember the time my brothers and I got in big "guilt by association" trouble with our neighbor, Charlie, who lived across the street.

Charlie's kindnesses to my younger brothers and me were not bestowed on all the neighborhood kids. Nobody had fences and Charlie, who didn't have children, took considerable pride in his well-manicured lawn. He was known as a curmudgeon for yelling at kids who cut through his yard.

One Independence Day, my brothers and I observed several of the older teenage boys blasting Charlie's mailbox to smithereens with cherry bombs.

Charlie blamed us. He said we could have stopped them. My dad replaced Charlie's mailbox, but we were frightened by the threat of punishment when we learned that destroying a mailbox is a federal offense.

We also discovered that gruff Charlie had a forgiving heart. He didn't file charges.

(FYI: Cherry bombs were banned in America by the federal Child Safety Act of 1966.)


I was living in New York City during the Fourth of July celebration in 1976, a time when the Big Apple had been experiencing tough financial times and high crime rates. Nonetheless, organizers planned a huge party for our nation's bicentennial with a Tall Ships parade, featuring majestic sailing ships from all over the world.

For an entire week, as Tall Ships arrived and docked at the South Street Seaport, the city came together in unity, much like folks did in Chicago during the Stanley Cup Final.

One of the New York newspapers ran a photo of a Russian vessel in full sail as it entered New York Harbor at sundown. The elegant image with the melodious caption, "Red Sails in the Sunset," forever has been emblazoned in my mind.

That year, a massive fireworks extravaganza was moved to several barges in the East River, not far from my apartment on East 81st Street.

While fireworks here in Naperville are spectacular, New York's bicentennial display perfectly timed and synchronized to music was the most magnificent shower of pyrotechnic creativity ever to tug at my independent spirit.

In 1993, the first year we lived here, we took our kids to Ribfest one evening, then headed to Monticello, Indiana, where my parents joined us at my Aunt Frannie's home on Lake Freeman on the Fourth. The tradition there featured my adult cousins shooting off fireworks from a pontoon.

The temperature had turned cool by the time it was dark enough for fireworks and everybody bundled up. My camera captured my parents and my aunt portraying the "Three Wise Monkeys." That one framed photo is a fond reminder of many family reunions and lessons learned at my aunt's house.

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